Tuesday night’s address by the mayor wasn’t just a State of the City speech, it was a farewell, of sorts. Marty Walsh is rooted here in this neighborhood and that’s not going to change. Yes, once confirmed by the US Senate — probably next month— he’ll be in Washington, D.C., a lot. But he’s not pulling up stakes and leaving town. He’s based here ‘til the end.
Still, this was his final State of the City speech as mayor and it was a tough one for him to give. The typical SOTC — in front of a thousand admirers at Symphony Hall— is peppered with natural breaks afforded by applause lines, a chance to catch one’s breath. In coronavirus times, it’s just the mayor, a teleprompter, a camera, and a glass of water to power him through 3,100 words crafted with speechwriter Eoin Cannon, another Dorchester resident with roots in the Emerald Isle.
But the emotions of the moment on Tuesday night were a bigger hurdle. As he came close to the end, our mayor labored to get through lines that clearly touched him deeply.
“I believe in Boston,” he said. “This is the city that welcomed my immigrant parents. This is the city that picked me up when I needed a second chance.”
Throughout this year of plague and protest, Walsh’s genuine empathy for others has been a constant and a balm for people facing frightening realities about our own well-being. In his near-daily briefings at the height of the crisis, he conveyed information and guidance, but also hope and comfort— all while juggling the great burden of making countless life-and-death decisions.
His was a steady hand and his caring, earnest tone — contrasted as it was with the ravings of the nation’s narcissist in chief— was a blessing for Bostonians that so many of our fellow Americans were denied.
So even the less-enamored among us would have to check their pulse to not feel a gulp of their own emerge as Mayor Walsh composed himself and plunged forward with a farewell.
“The truth is, I’m not going to Washington alone. I’m bringing Boston with me. This city is not just my hometown, it’s my heart.”
He continued: “Seven years ago, at my first inauguration, I said ‘I will listen, I will learn, I will lead. We are sworn in together and we are in this together – all of us. I meant it.”
Back when he took office at City Hall, the Reporter — which has chronicled Walsh’s political career since his first days as a candidate for state representative in 1997— observed that there’s a quality in Marty Walsh that eludes lesser leaders: People want him to succeed.
“For folks from Dorchester,” we wrote in this space, “he is now the vessel of their own aspirations: the kid from the three-decker on Taft Street who has beaten cancer, a drive-by bullet blast, and “the disease” to grasp his city’s ultimate brass ring. Marty has become living, breathing proof that we can tame our own demons and even harness them for the purposes of a greater good… [We] also want him to get better— to achieve more than even [we] thought he could. We still do. Like every one of us, he’s a work in progress. And that has been the case with him since Day One of his move into politics.”
In terms of stepping up to the job at hand, we concluded: “It says here that Walsh has it in him.”
We were right. And these same qualities will now serve him, us, and the entire nation. At a time of great gravity for our shaken Republic, Boston is sending our best.
- Bill Forry